Weeki Wachee Springs has been welcoming visitors to its mermaid show and theme park since 1947. The mermaid show— where real-life women perform underwater using breathing tubes—was once one of Florida’s most famous roadside attractions. The show still goes on with just the right blend of nostalgia, natural beauty and old Florida kitsch.
UNDER THE SEA
Now a state park, Weeki Wachee Springs (6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; 352.592.5656; weekiwachee.com) was purchased in 1946 by a former Navy seaman who saw the spring’s potential as a tourist attraction. He built a compressor to supply air through rubber hoses, hired pretty girls to staff his shows and put on the state’s first live underwater spectacle. By the 1950s, the glamorous mermaids had become one of Florida’s biggest draws. As many as half a million visitors attended the shows annually, including such celebrities as Elvis Presley and Don Knotts. The mermaids themselves received the royal treatment both inside the park and around Florida. Today, visitors can still watch the sirens perform in the crystal-clear spring water. Currently, the show is running a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. “We’re not like other women,” the mermaids sing. “We’ve got the world by the tail!”
Mermaids aren’t the only ones to swim the cool, clear waters of Weeki Wachee. Visitors can also take a dip at Buccaneer Bay, the attraction’s nod to a traditional water park. Here, two giant waterslides offer a fun way to shoot into the spring water, which stays 74 degrees year-round. Slides not your thing? No problem. The water is just fine for swimming, snorkeling or tubing. Word to the wise: The park fills up quickly, and during its busy months it can reach capacity early in the day. Be sure to book your tickets ahead of time.
MORE THAN MERMAIDS
The wonders of Weeki Wachee can also be experienced on the water rather than in it. Kayaks are available for rent through Weeki Fresh Water Adventures (352.597.8484), the only kayak rental facility located on the river at the state park. The trip downriver runs 2.8 miles and takes about an hour and a half. At the pullout location, kayakers are shuttled back to the park. The river is home to wading birds, fish and turtles, and manatees are known to ply its fresh waters.
If you plan to make a weekend out of Weeki Wachee, your best bet is to rent a house through Airbnb, VRBO or another of the online vacation rental services. Although hotels are nearby, they run more budget-friendly than boutique. Instead, comb through property rentals online to find modern, spacious houses with docks that overlook the river. Many come with kayaks, canoes and quirky names such as The Chubby Mermaid.